Dr. Gereboff's Head Notes
“What was it like in the olden days?” a precocious first grader asked me last Tuesday. I had to restrain myself from laughing, as heretofore I had never thought about myself living in the “olden days”. Those were days of horse and buggies weren’t they? Then I realized that I am indeed from the olden days for this little guy! I proceeded to explain what a dial up phone looked like, and how it worked. He was satisfied and then jumped to a completely new topic. This first grader is part of Next Gen. or Generation V (“v” for virtual), according to a speaker I heard this past week. His mini-history is set in the context of virtual, web-based networking. Understanding his context, as well as that of our spouses, children and co-workers, is key to communicating in a way that will build lasting positive relationships.
Jane Buckingham from Trendera, an expert on intergenerational understanding, spoke at the annual conference for Heads and Trustees of California Independent Schools. The message of this presentation was that each generation has been reared under such different social-historical conditions that they communicate and think about life very differently. Marketing experts know this. Teachers and parents don’t always appreciate it, but we experience it every day.
As a “boomer”, I grew up in times of post-war prosperity, when the American dream was a promise that we all pursued and believed we could attain. My high school and college years were marked by student uprisings, war-protests and equal rights initiatives that changed the world. As a group, boomers have been characterized as being optimistic, having a strong work ethic, being critical of authority and as consensus builders. We are the educators or bosses who will not lead in an authoritarian manner - even cringing at the idea of being called “the boss”. We are also the generation of “workaholics” because we grew up with the idea that one lives to work.
Wornick’s teaching staff and parent body are primarily Gen X’s (ages 36-49) and Gen Y’s. Gen X came of age with dual-income families, single-parent families, the Watergate, AIDs and energy crises. They are the first generation that may not do as well financially as their parents. As a group, they are fiercely independent, self-sufficient, and often have a sense that “you can’t really count on jobs or marriage.” They tend to dislike change, as it usually was a negative experience for them. Because of this context, Gen Xers place a very high priority on family and their community. Gen Xers are many of the parents and teachers in our school who have built a community through PTO, school volunteerism, and their connections to the parents in their children’s classes. These are often the staff members at our school that initiate staff social gatherings, and the parents who lead the way with class get-togethers.
Gen Y (ages 20 – 35) grew up in a more colorful time, with digital media, self-esteem building classes, school shootings, and 9/11. They are confident, optimistic, hotly competitive, expect personal attention, and are intensely concerned about security. This is the networked generation who believe that who you know can be more important than what you know, and they operate at “high speed”. They question workplace longevity. Our Gen Y parents and teachers are more results than process driven. They are sociable, well educated, and very accepting of diversity.
Our students and our children are Gen V – the evolving generation. We know that they are virtually connected to the world, and that they and their friends work on three things at once – phone, computer, and television. Recent research discusses an emerging reading issue as these youngsters have grown up scanning digital material and therefore have difficulty reading deeply.
Another emerging issue for this generation is the tendency to measure their self worth by the number of “likes” that they receive on their network feeds. They are adept at posting information throughout the day and night about themselves and then waiting, counting, and timing the responses. Parents and teachers need to be aware of this and be able to address it with their children. This phenomenon requires us all to help this generation find inner, enduring self-worth and meaning so they are less vulnerable to on-line shunning and shaming. Ira Glass, in a This American Life broadcast addresses this very issue.
All of these factors - and so many more - impact how we teach, who we hire, how we parent, how we interact with our partners and spouses and how we structure our community. Context matters in understanding both ourselves, and the people with whom we interact daily. It is not productive, nor accurate, to wax poetic about the “good old days” nor to lament the “current trends.” It is, however, very important to know the context so we can understand and help each generation find purpose and value.
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